Lex Arnold's story

Lex had a happy childhood in the late 1960s, despite his parents’ drinking problems. His mother died when he was still young, however, and for a few years Lex was passed from relative to relative. He began to run away from home and refused to stay at school. ‘I guess I had a problem with authority figures over me’, Lex explained to the Commissioner.

At 13 Lex was caught trying to break into a government building and he entered the juvenile justice system. ‘I received a “general sentence”, which means they could keep you from one day until you’re 18 years of age.’

Lex was sent to a juvenile detention centre in Sydney’s west. ‘I tried to run away, twice. I was taken to solitary confinement. I was told I had to be awake, standing at attention with my nose on the back wall every hour, otherwise they would kick me.’

Physical abuse was part of the discipline at the centre. Lex does not recall being sexually abused there, but he remembers being forced many times to strip naked and stand on a chair for ‘inspection’.

Released from detention, Lex lived with a relative for a few years, again refusing to stay at school. He spent his time ‘pretty much on the streets’.

As a 16 year old, Lex was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was present at a shooting incident and was convicted as being an accessory. After trying to escape while on remand, Lex was sent to an adult prison. He was kept away from the older prisoners and put in a yard by himself.

A guard told him, ‘If you leave that yard you’ll be bashed, raped and pregnant within 24 hours’.

Lex was convicted and faced another two years in jail. He was deemed ‘too unruly’ for the juvenile detention system and at 16 found himself in an adult maximum security prison.

Lex was assured he’d be kept away from other prisoners. ‘Not for one day did that happen. I was kept with adult prisoners from day dot.’ The only concession made to Lex’s youth was his housing in a protection unit, with adult prisoners also deemed in danger of assault.

It didn’t save him. One day an officer brought Lex to an empty prison yard and left him there. A short while later an adult prisoner named Oscar Brown appeared at the entrance. ‘The screw came and let him in, to the yard that I was in. Screw went away. And Brown asked me if I knew what he was in there for.’

‘He said it was “time you get your pants off”.’

Lex refused. Brown became aggressive. ‘He said, “You’ll do it now, otherwise you’re in for a very tough time. I’m gonna bash you now, and I’ll bash you more times”.’

‘So I took my pants off. And he raped me.’

‘Then he yelled out to the officer. The officer came, got me out of that yard and put me into my own yard.’

Lex did not try to report the rape, because he had clearly been set up by the prison officer and thought it would be a waste of time. ‘This officer who was supposed to be protecting me, I mean did this officer have a 16-year-old boy at home?’

‘I saw Brown every day for the time I was there. I was so upset with myself, angry with myself that I didn’t at least try to stop him … at least I could’ve tried, and I didn’t.’

When Lex was released he took the shame and guilt with him. It would be 20 years before he learned to accept that the rape was not his fault.

‘I felt so full of shame, anger and guilt I tried everything, including Christianity, to try and help me get over that. And I couldn’t. It wasn’t until I was about 24 I discovered IV drugs, and they worked. They worked. I didn’t feel the pain any more.’

Lex had been able to hold down a job, but his growing heroin addiction brought that to an end. He used crime to support his habit and was eventually sent to jail for a long stretch after a bungled robbery.

While in prison Lex acknowledged that he needed help. ‘I was in so much pain.’ In the early 2000s he disclosed the sexual abuse to a counsellor and gradually learned to shed the feelings of guilt. He emerged from jail free of addictions as well, and for a while managed to rebuild his life. Marriage followed, and children, and success with a business.

Unfortunately, some setbacks saw Lex dabble in heroin again, and then ice. His marriage fell apart and he lost his business and many friends.

Lex’s story is not over. In recent years he has once again beaten the drugs and is trying to get back into some form of work. He sees his kids every day and gets on well with his ex-wife. Though he still has flashbacks to the rape, he is learning to deal with them.

Lex would like to see changes in the law so that children cannot be sent to adult prisons under any circumstances.

‘How do you send a 16-year-old to a maximum security prison anyway?’

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